Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Deadly Sins of B to B Branding: Death By Description

This post continues a series of entries focusing on the most common missteps we see in branding initiatives in business-to-business enterprises.

In the course of presenting our branding recommendations to a client earlier this week, we talked about the perils of settling for a brand position that merely names the game a company is in. Doing so often results in a brand position that describes rather than differentiates. So how prevalent is this deadly sin in B to B?

In some segments, it's rampant. Consider the following manufacturing industry example I've used in my guest lectures at Marquette University's MBA program. Each company uses its tag line to say what business it's in.

You could make the argument that with the exception of Chiswick, each of the above tag lines does indeed say something about how each company does what it does, and thereby positions the brand.*

You could, I guess. My point to students, though, was that a company misses a big opportunity by positioning its brand based on what the company does rather than on what's uniquely valuable about the company. That's strike one. Strike two? Each brand is positioned in territory that's already occupied by competing players.

The net is, each of these companies has made it harder than it should be for a prospective customer to start the process of determining preference and affinity. As noted in an earlier post, the tag line part of the equation is particularly critical because it announces a company's brand promise. It's also the creative expression of a company's desired brand position.

An October, 2004 study by Marketing Sherpa suggested that 64% of B to B buyers begin learning about potential suppliers by doing a Web search. My guess is, that number has gone up since. Today, prospects are vetting and evaluating your company based on what they see on your Web site. The fact they've found you means they already know what business you're in. If the announcement you make about your brand from the home page on is simply that "we do this," you've left it to the visitor to figure out what's special about you.

Yes, "Death By Description" is hyperbole. From the looks of things, the above companies have built sophisticated, successful operations. My point is simply that all of these companies are missing an opportunity to use effective brand positioning to put distance between themselves and their competitors.


*You may have also noticed that all of these companies brand themselves as "solutions providers." More on this in a future post. For now, suffice it to say that in the Church of B to B Branding & Positioning, this transgression calls for more than a few extra Hail Marys.

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